MENTAL HEALTH MASQUERADE
For thousands of Arizonans, the court case known as Arnold v. Sarn was a godsend.
The landmark lawsuit grew from a sensitive subject that few people voluntarily broach: how society cares for its seriously mentally ill.
Superior Court Judge Bernard Dougherty forced the issue with a ruling in 1985. Maricopa County's seriously mentally ill, the judge said, have an absolute right to treatment.
But until the Arizona Supreme Court sided with Dougherty in 1989, Arizona's legislators weren't compelled legally to actually provide enough funding to make a difference--and they didn't.
After the high court ruled, however, both sides of the lawsuit combined to compose a document called the "Blueprint." It dictates the sweeping reforms that Maricopa County and the State of Arizona must implement to end the lawsuit.
But trusting the government to decide when it reaches compliance is like having the fox watch the hen house.
With that in mind, Judge Dougherty in May 1991 established the Office of the Court Monitor. Its purpose: to make sure the government keeps its promise to care for the mentally ill.
The judge appointed Linda Glenn, nationally known in the mental-health-care industry, as the monitor. Armed with a $500,000-plus annual budget and unfettered power, she and her small staff moved into a house turned office east of downtown Phoenix.
"The mentally ill were in big trouble here before Arnold v. Sarn," says Glenn. "It was pathetic, sad, tragic. It's still far from perfect, but it's better than it was. I was put in to provide the glue to a system that needed it--a kind of watchdog."
Unfortunately, a New Times investigation shows, no one has monitored the monitor.
Public officials have granted Glenn and her staff carte blanche to operate with inadequate safeguards and accountability. The result is a financial mess that includes slipshod accounting practices and other irregularities, including:
Employees of the local court monitor's office are full-time and on salary, yet have been paid thousands of dollars annually by taxpayers in Florida to perform work for Glenn, who serves as monitor of a similar case in Florida. Glenn insists her employees do out-of-state work on their own time, not on Maricopa County's.
Glenn has double-billed taxpayers in Arizona and Florida for work apparently done at the same time on the same day. She steadfastly denies improprieties.
As court monitor, Glenn has been paid $125,000 a year as a fee-for-services "consultant" for Arnold v. Sarn, an amount she admits appears excessive. "I worried that I was having to spend so much time on the case that it was gonna look funny someday. But I do not overbill," Glenn says.
Florida officials have accused Glenn and a co-monitor of overcharging and padding bills. But in Arizona, no one in authority has disputed the glaring fiscal anomalies.
"I know some of this doesn't look good," Glenn says, "but I'm not even that interested in money. People get our financials every month and no one has complained: the Department of Health Services, attorney general, county attorney, Center for Law in the Public Interest, the judge, and God knows who else. I just don't want criticism of me or my office to hurt the seriously mentally ill, because we've come far in the last few years."
Judge Dougherty was dismayed last week when New Times showed him some of the documentation on which this story is based.
"This is so disturbing to me," the judge says, adding that he hadn't seen the data before. "I'm going to have to order an independent audit of the monitor's office, so I can figure out what's going on. There's no reason at this point to doubt Linda's integrity. I've been fooled before, but I strongly feel that there's no venal motivation here. The issue seems to be sloppiness and shoddy accounting. Obviously, something has to be done."
Linda Glenn faced formidable roadblocks when she came on board as court monitor in May 1991.
The litigation in the Arnold v. Sarn lawsuit was over. But everyone knew the next phase--implementation of the Blueprint--would be difficult.
Indeed, the target date of September 1995 turned out to be unrealistic. Insiders now estimate that the suit will continue for another few years, even if the plaintiffs reduce some of their demands.
Maricopa County's approach to dealing with its seriously mentally ill remains deficient (New Times, June 1). But because of the Arnold v. Sarn decision, the seriously mentally ill at least have a better chance at improving their lives than they used to.
The task of creating a mental-health-care system is so convoluted that only a few people in the nation are considered experts. These experts--they must be part lawyer, part manager, part politician--are in high demand. These elite troubleshooters have their own management systems and nomenclature, which allow them to communicate. The specialization also serves to insulate them from outside scrutiny.
Linda Glenn is one of the elite.
Some contacted by New Times expressed admiration for Glenn as diligent and articulate; others revile her and say she is intransigent.
Glenn has been in the mental-health field for almost three decades. She's been a high-level government and private bureaucrat in several states; she ran the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in the early 1980s.
Glenn's rsum indicates she's also worked as a consultant and expert witness in 30 states. But, she says, Arnold v. Sarn presented an unprecedented challenge.
In May 1991, as today, many members of the Arizona Legislature didn't like the notion of the courts ordering them to dole out money for mental-health care. At the same time, the systems in place for the seriously mentally ill were failing miserably.
Glenn hired Charles "Chick" Arnold--the onetime Maricopa County public fiduciary who in 1981 had filed the Arnold v. Sarn class-action lawsuit--as the court monitor's attorney. (In 1994, the court monitor paid Arnold almost $44,000, at $150 an hour.)
Glenn's meter also has been running regularly since the day her office opened. The $75-an-hour "consultant" has been averaging about $125,000 per year as court monitor, plus expenses. She points out that she receives no health, retirement or other government benefits.
Glenn says she sought counsel a few years ago on the subject from Arnold and another attorney.
"I said, 'We ought to do something different because I'm putting in too many hours,'" she recalls. "They just pooh-poohed it. I wish they hadn't."
Judge Dougherty, who has been in charge of Arnold v. Sarn for more than a decade, says he doesn't peruse bills that emanate from Glenn's office.
"Not the day-by-day activities," the judge says, "just a computer printout with some numbers. I know Linda does work in Florida and other places because she has great expertise. I don't know a thing about this other stuff."
Florida assistant attorney general Jason Vail first butted heads with Linda Glenn about a year ago. Assigned to work on a federal class-action suit involving a state mental hospital, Vail says he was appalled by the bills coming before him.
He was in a sticky position. The State of Florida is the defendant in the lawsuit. If he complained too loudly, Glenn and Dorothy Rowe--her co-monitor in Florida--could make life miserable for him and his client. But he says he didn't care.
"Our policy is to nit-pick every bill we get," Vail tells New Times from his office in Tallahassee. "I think we have a special responsibility to the taxpayer to do this, even though you have to have the soul of a CPA to go through this stuff.
"What we have found is that being a monitor is an invitation to feast at the public trough. Their bills here are a confused, disorganized mass, and they do financial juggling that makes it very difficult to find out what they're doing."
Dorothy Rowe does most of the monitoring work in Florida, though Glenn collected about $27,000 in fees and $5,000 in expenses in that state last year. (It isn't known how much Glenn made in Delaware or New Mexico, where she also consults on mental-health-care cases.)
Records show Vail has questioned more than $200,000 in monitor bills submitted to Florida over an 18-month period. In response, Glenn and Rowe crafted a 160-page memorandum that disputed all but $89.99 of Vail's allegations.
The co-monitors offered to reimburse the State of Florida that amount for the purchase of clothes they say were inadvertently included in their billings, and charges for snacks and alcoholic drinks that, in their own words, "may be viewed as inappropriate."
Vail's complaint is pending before a U.S. District Court judge.
Glenn says she hasn't been stealing from anyone.
"I'm trying to resign from that case because the guy [Vail] won't let me get my work done there," she tells New Times. "Mr. Vail lies about things. He wants to derail the monitors, and he will tell you anything. What he and his cohorts are trying to do is obfuscate the fact that they're not coming into compliance in the lawsuit."
Vail says Glenn's animus toward him stems from a basic premise: "I am trying to make her accountable for what she says the taxpayers owe her. She doesn't want to be accountable to anyone. Monitors have an incentive to overwork and to expand a case. What you get is a phenomenon called 'issue creep.' If a monitor says we as defendants have done what we promised to do, she's essentially handing herself a pink slip. That's one reason these things go on forever. Hasn't anyone thought about this in Arizona?"
No. Glenn is correct when she says no one in Arizona has complained about how much money she's made, or how much her office has spent.
But an examination of her Arizona and Florida bills shows that Glenn on several occasions has billed taxpayers in both states for work done at the same time.
One example of this occurred last July 12. Glenn's itemized billing to Arizona for that date states:
"Office; conference call with plaintiffs; conference call re licensing; audit tool; memo to Chip re IGA." Glenn billed 6 1/2 hours--$637.50--for completing those tasks.
She didn't note on the Arizona bill that she had taken a 12:10 p.m. flight that day to Tampa, courtesy of Florida taxpayers. Her Florida invoice for the same time frame claims four full days--July 12-15--as one entry:
"Travel, review reports on districts, meet with Dottie, tours and meetings in St. Petersburg and Tampa."
For this, the State of Florida paid Glenn $600 per day plus expenses.
All told, on July 12, Linda Glenn collected $1,237.75 from two sets of taxpayers in two different states.
"It may be an error on my part or it may not be," Glenn responds. "It would not surprise me if I had done some work in Arizona early in the morning, got to Florida and did a whole day's work there. Or I could have done Arizona on the plane ride. To me, it's not double-billing. But I do know how strange this might appear to an outsider."
Another example occurred on March 4, 1994, another Phoenix-to-Tampa day. From Glenn's Florida invoice: "Dottie, issues re letters and conference calls; prepare for meetings with Dottie and judge; travel to Florida." The cost to Florida taxpayers was $600.
That day, she billed her Phoenix office $462.50 for the following: "Pam, Chip, issues re legislature; Ralph, review info on budget issues, DHS."
"Approving" Glenn's bills in both states is a man named Ralph Hughes. Hughes is the executive director of the Office of the Court Monitor here; in the Florida case, he wears the hat of Glenn's accountant.
He has a $64,000 annual salary here, plus benefits that add about $16,000 to the package. His wife, Sue Hamel, the full-time staff attorney for the local court monitor's office, in 1994 earned $73,000 in salary and benefits.
Last year, Hughes billed Florida about $9,000, paying himself on Office of the Court Monitor checks after Linda Glenn okayed the amount. Although he must approve Glenn's expenditures, Hughes also serves at her whim.
"I can see that Linda's hours could have been clocked and notated better," Hughes says, "but it's not inconceivable to me that she could legitimately bill in one state for a full day and work for six hours in another state."
Hughes first told New Times that Judge Dougherty was aware that he was also working on the Florida case and had no problem with it. But the judge says he didn't know anything about Hughes' Florida role until New Times informed him.
"All this taking one hat off and putting another hat on is confusing and raises many serious issues," the judge says. "I just thought Ralph had his job here and that covered it."
Informed that Dougherty had denied knowing of his Florida work--let alone approving of it--Hughes' recollection changed.
"Well, maybe he didn't tell me that," Hughes says. "It's just that this has got me a little pissed off, this probing into our affairs."
Three financial analysts tell New Times the relationship between Glenn and Hughes negates basic accounting principles and adds up to a conflict of interest.
"I don't see any conflict," Hughes replies, "because the ultimate approval always comes from the plaintiffs and defendants when we submit our monthly reconciliation. And I never do any of my Florida work on Arizona time or vice versa, believe me."
Sue Lundgren, a secretary at the local court monitor's office, also works for Glenn in Florida. She collected about $300 a month last year performing "clerical services" for the monitor in Florida--all done on her own time, she says.
Until Florida's Jason Vail spoke up last year, however, Lundgren did not itemize her activities. Before then, her typical bill would say, "Excess hours: 25. $500."
"In excess of what?" Vail asks sarcastically. "Huh? I mean, what does this lady do for $20 an hour?"
"I'm a grandmother, not a thief," she says, laughing. "There may be a little overlap sometimes, but I try to keep the jobs as separate as possible. It's just like stopping one clock and starting another. I don't know how Linda keeps track."
Dorothy Rowe, Glenn's co-monitor in Florida, is another person who has to keep track of many things. Last year, according to records, Rowe collected $17,700 from Linda Glenn's office here, for 31 days she spent working in Arizona. The local office also reimbursed her for $3,136 in expenses.
But, like Glenn, Rowe also rode the gravy train in Florida at the same time she was supposedly toiling in Arizona.
Rowe billed the State of Florida for six hours and ten minutes of work--worth about $460--on August 23, 1994. What's troubling is how Rowe accounted for her time on that day. It includes the notation, "Telephone with Linda Glenn."
Nowhere is there a hint that Rowe was in Arizona at the time--she billed the local monitor's office $600 for eight hours of work that day--or that she was staying at Linda Glenn's home. (That same day, Glenn billed Florida $27.50 and billed $187.50 in Arizona.)
Rowe did not return phone calls from New Times.
"I would ask Dottie to bring some Florida materials on her trips to Arizona," Glenn says of her colleague. "But I can't speak to how she billed Florida while she was here."
Back in Florida, Linda Glenn's nemesis waits for a judge to rule on his complaints about the co-monitors' billing habits.
But Jason Vail says he holds out little hope that anything will change.
"The monitors are almost all-powerful beings in our world," he says, "and these cases are big moneymakers for both monitors and plaintiffs. And they try real hard to keep these things secret."
In Arizona, Judge Bernard Dougherty wants to know what that secret is.
"I'm going to sit down with Chick and Linda and Ralph and try to figure out what's going on here," the judge says.
Editorial intern Israel Ramirez assisted with reporting and research.
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